Steve Borthwick believes England’s World Cup heartbreak can be the making of his side after their agonising one-point semi-final defeat by South Africa. He declared his pride for his players after pushing the defending champions so close but believes the future is bright for his team despite their going out in devastating fashion.
England produced their best performance under Borthwick by some distance to lead the world No 1 side 15-9 with 12 minutes to go. A close-range try by RG Snyman and a 78th-minute penalty from Handré Pollard edged South Africa into the final, however, with England beaten by the Springboks for the second World Cup in a row.
Pollard penalty breaks England hearts as South Africa reach World Cup finalRead more
South Africa’s “Bomb Squad” eventually proved decisive with Kyle Sinckler and Ellis Genge giving away two scrum penalties apiece but Borthwick insisted any individual disappointment would be harnessed.
“In adversity, in these tough times, there’s some seed that will grow and be brilliant in the future,” the head coach said. “Right now it’s too early for me to find that seed but we’ll make sure we find that, we’ll make sure that we grab that and it makes us stronger in the future.
“I think the whole team’s performance was strong. We’re disappointed. We came here with a plan to win the game and we fell short. We’re desperately disappointed. The players should be incredibly proud. I care about these players, these supporters and English rugby.
“What I see is a group of guys who are doing as much as they can to build a team to have supporters as proud of them as they possibly can. We all truly believed we could do it, we were going to do it but we fell short. As you look at the team, in that 23 there were seven players 25 or under. South Africa had one. There’s a great blend within this squad and there’ll be lots of things we can take forward. We put ourselves in a position but we came up short.”
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What next? The future for England’s World Cup squad
End of the road
A number of England’s starting XV against South Africa are set to end their international careers after the bronze medal match against Argentina. Courtney Lawes, Joe Marler, Dan Cole, Courtney Lawes and Jonny May are in that category, Manu Tuilagi too, and, of the replacements, Danny Care. Of the 10 players who were not in the matchday squad, Ben Youngs – England’s most capped men’s player – will surely call time after what should be a swansong against Argentina. Jack Willis, Joe Marchant and David Ribbans will, as things stand, be unavailable for the Six Nations having moved abroad.
There are a host of players the wrong side of 30 and while they may continue their England careers into the 2024 Six Nations, it is unclear if they will make it to the 2027 World Cup. Jamie George, Elliot Daly, Billy Vunipola, George Ford and Kyle Sinckler are in that number, as is the captain Owen Farrell. It seems inconceivable that Farrell will not captain England into next year’s Six Nations but there will come a point where the question marks over his place in the side that are rarely far from the surface will loom larger. Borthwick may be tempted to install Marcus Smith as his No 1 fly-half sooner rather than later.
Borthwick was quick to point out after the match that England had seven players in the matchday 23 who are 25 or under. He can also add Smith and Henry Arundell to the list which already includes George Martin, Tom Curry, Ben Earl, Freddie Steward, Ollie Lawrence, Ollie Chessum and Theo Dan. Jack van Poortvliet will come back into the reckoning and Borthwick would do well to blood youngsters such as Chandler Cunningham-South, Tom Pearson and Dan Kelly at the earliest opportunity. Gerard Meagher
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South Africa are one match from successfully defending their title with New Zealand awaiting in Saturday’s final. They have won both their knockout matches to date by a single point, having edged out France 29-28 the week before. The Springboks were on the back foot for large spells but turned to their bench with Handré Pollard coming on after 31 minutes and the replacement props Ox Nché and Vincent Koch having a huge impact.
“Credit to England, they have worked hard,” said the captain, Siya Kolisi. “They were written off before the World Cup. Steve Borthwick and Owen [Farrell] and the team pulled themselves together and showed who they are. They are not a team you take lightly, all credit to them for being in the semi-final. To my team as well it was ugly like it was last week but we found a way to fight back and get back into the game.”